Pinfish are a favorite bait of many saltwater fisherman here in the Florida Keys and throughout many other parts of the country. They are nice hardy baits which many larger predators will eat. They are a staple for many fishing guides because they are usually fairly easy to acquire by either fishing for them, using traps, or casting a net. You can almost always find them as opposed to many other baits which can be seasonal and hard to find at times. They also stay pretty lively without much water flow in bait wells and pens. I’m going to go over how to catch them, how to rig them, and how to keep them alive in this article.
- This trap is used to catch pinfish in shallow water mostly.
Here in the Florida Keys pinfish are probably one of the easiest baitfish to find. If you’ve spent any time fishing in the bays and backcountry they actually can be a nuisance since they will often eat your bait shrimp off before other fish have a chance to get it. My favorite way to catch pinfish is by trapping them. You can do it on your own free time or before/after/during a charter or fishing trip. I like to use steel chicken wire traps with 4 doors going into them, and a little float attached to find it. I usually take a 7 lb block of chum and cut it into 5 or 6 even pieces. This is easiest by either letting it thaw a bit and cutting it with a saw or knife, or if you have a hatchet and hammer you can chop it up that way while still frozen (hint: leave it in the box while you cut it this will prevent bits from flying everywhere!)You can also use a few fish carcassess, but I find this takes longer to catch bait with. Just put a piece in the trap and your ready to go! On the edges of the flats is a good place to try to find pinfish.
You may have to let your trap soak anywhere from an hour to 6 hours, depending on the temperature and amount of bait around. Larger traps you may even let sit over night. Generally in colder water it will take longer to thaw and the pinfish will be less active so it will take longer. If your not having success in a certain area, try moving around. Sometimes moving just a few hundred yards away can make a big difference. Pinfish also tend to move around at different times of year, so if something doesn’t work one time don’t think it won’t ever be good. If your trap does have pinfish in it, be careful loading them into the boat and try not to let them stick each other unnecessarily, this beats the baits up and makes them less hardy.
You can also catch pinfish on rod and reel. I suggest using a small tiny bait hook and a small split shot with 10 lb leader/line. Basically just put out a block of chum and either anchor up or drift. We often find them in the bays with grassy bottom, but again on the edges of flats can be a good spot too. Use something like squid for bait that will stay on the hook for a long time. A tiny piece of shrimp will work, but you will be rebaiting a lot. Use a dehooker to avoid poking yourself and to prevent damage from handling the baits. This method is good if your out on the water and don’t want to wait to soak traps. Finally you can also try casting a net. If your anchored or drifting where there are lots of pinfish coming up just toss your net on top of them. Be warned though pinfish will quickly dive to the bottom when they see the net coming so they can be tricky to net, they won’t live very well if your trying to save them for use another day. They also can get caught in the net pretty easily with all the spines. I’d suggest using like 1/4 inch mesh net for them if your trying to net them.
Pinfish are pretty easy to rig up, just be careful as they are called pinfish for a reason and can poke you if your not careful. One thing you can do is use a pair of scissors to cut their back fins off which makes them easier to grab especially if your trying to get a bait out quickly. They work great live but also can work chopped up as dead bait too. I generally rig them either through the nose or on their back near the tail. You can fish them on almost any kind of rig, but I usually am either using a regular jighead, knocker rig (hook/sinker), or floating on a bobber. I like to use a jig if I am casting them regularly and wanting them to sink down, in this case hooking them through the nose is best as they will stay alive longer. A 1/4 once jig head works nicely for most places though you may want to go heavier in stronger current or with a bigger bait. If I am anchored and just leaving a bait sit out in the rod holder I often use a knocker rig. Here again I generally hook them through the nose as they will live a bit longer and fish more naturally. Finally sometimes we also put them on bobbers or free line them, especially for things such as snook or tarpon. Here again hooking through the nose works perfectly fine, however one trick is to hook them through the back near the tail. This allows the bait to swim away from you, which works especailly well snook fishing near the mangroves as they will swim near the trees. Also you can pull back on your pinfish and it will make him kick really hard which often entices fish as they feel the vibration. However be warned your baits will not last long fishing like this as they are expending much more energy swimming against you, so make sure you have plenty of them. You can try this method while fishing with the jigs or knocker rigs too.
Keeping Pinfish Alive
Pinfish are one of the easiest baitfish to keep alive. They don’t require a whole lot of moving water like pilchards or mullet. As long as your baitwell has an aerator you should be in good shape, if you are really loading up with bait though you may want to run a water pump too. I often keep pinfish in bait pens for later use. These pens often are made out of coated wire and can be made in any size, just make sure your holes are small enough your baits can’t get out. You can find a variety of these on-line or build one yourself. One thing to remember is you don’t want to put too many pinfish in a bait pen. Otherwise they will start eating each other (you’ll notice red marks, red tails, and baits looking ‘beaten up’). You’ll have to figure out this number depending on the size of your pen, but if you notice them eating each other after a few days, then you are over filling. Another nice thing about pinfish is you really don’t have to feed them as long as your not over filling the pen, however if your have baits that are old or beat up you can throw a chunk of chum or fish in once in a while. Actually baits that are beaten up will often get healthier if you feed them a few times.
- Captain Rick Stanczyk is the charter captain of the well known Bud N Mary’s Sportfishing Marina in Islamorada, FL. From backcountry to offshore fishing the Stancyzk family is top notch and and can provide you with the experience of a lifetime.